I am no longer living in an urban neighborhood of Seattle. I am staying with my sister and aunt in their condo in the suburbs about a half hour outside of downtown. The other night I was craving a smoothie, but I didn’t have the ingredients. I grabbed my keys to head out the door, get in my car and drive out of the condo complex, across the main road and over to the parking lot of the grocery store. But just as I was stepping out the door into the crisp October air under a sky of stars, I decided to walk instead.
My feet brought me to the door of the store in under five minutes. This is at least half of the time it took me to walk from my old apartment to the grocery store, which I used to do all of the time. Why had I even considered driving, especially when I was only picking up some fruit for a smoothie?
I thought of the difference between urban areas and suburban areas. I think it is a given that urban areas are more walker friendly since everything is in closer proximity. It doesn’t take long to walk to the nearest store or post office or bank. In the suburbs, it often requires a drive to get to these places, and there are expansive parking lots outside of the store entrances, just waiting for your vehicle to park itself in the large space between the white lines. It is easy. It is convenient.
In fact, it is so easy and convenient that we have been trained to get into our cars in one parking lot and drive across the street to another parking lot, instead of just walking that short distance. There have been times when I have needed to go to two different stores in the same strip mall, parked in front of one store and then moved my car to park in front of the other store when it was literally a three minute walk to the other side of the retail center. Other times I have spent time driving around in an attempt to find a “good parking spot” close to the entrance when I could easily go straight to the back of the parking lot and find an available space. Why? Why would I, someone who loves walking so much, go out of my way to not walk?
Habit. Unconscious thought. Laziness. Whatever you want to call it. I’ve trained myself to not even think of walking as an option to get from one point to another out here in the ‘burbs. I’ve conditioned myself to find that best parking spot up close, like I’ve accomplished something wonderful when I snag a spot closest to the entrance.
We allow ourselves to hop in the car and drive 0.2 miles to the convenient store for milk. We reward ourselves when we find that front row parking spot. Parents drive a block to the school bus stop and sit there in the luxury of their vehicle while they wait for the yellow bus to arrive, only then to turn around and drive a block back to their home.
I’ve decided to put an end to my suburban mindset. I am going to take a step back and make a conscious effort to untrain my brain of this subconscious attempt to get closer to where I am going by not using my own two feet. So here’s to parking in the back of the lot just because. And to walking to the grocery store across the street or down the road just because I can. To stop thinking of convenience and to stop acting out of habit.
Now, if your trip to the grocery store is a few miles or you stock up on lots of groceries each visit, then it makes sense to have a vehicle to get you there and to transport the bags you aren’t physically capable of carrying. There are lots of great reasons for cars, and sometimes walking is not feasible or doesn’t make sense. But for a quick trip to pick up milk, or run to the bank down the street, or drop off something at the post office, you might just try walking there.
Can you admit to this same habit of convenience? Do you find yourself driving when you could easily walk instead?